Recent research by University of North Carolina and Vanderbilt University professors have brought the medical world one step closer to creating a vaccine to prevent Dengue Fever.
Although it is believed that humans have been fighting the dengue virus for hundreds of years, it wasn’t documented until the 1950s when it reached epidemic levels in the Philippines and Thailand. Sixty years later and it is estimated that 40% of the world’s population is at risk of dengue. Almost all the cases that were diagnosed in the United States had been contracted elsewhere while traveling. Contact between the mosquitoes that carry dengue is very uncommon in the U.S.
The dengue virus is transmitted through the bites of several types of mosquitoes under the genus Aedes which primarily live in tropical and subtropical environments. Symptoms of dengue can start 4-7 days after infection and include fever, headache, muscle and joint pain and rashes. In a small number of cases, the fever can reach a critical phase. There are four closely related strands of the virus and severe cases are more common when a person is infected with two different strands of dengue.
Until now, how the human immune system fights the dengue virus has always been somewhat of a mystery because tests had only been conducted with mice. For this study, Aravinda M. de Silva, PHD. Of UNC School of Medicine, was able to study blood cells from people that were infected with dengue while traveling abroad. De Silva and her team were able to locate what part of the virus the immune system attacked.
“’This is a huge issue for vaccine development,’ said lead study author Ruklanthi de Alwis, a graduate student in de Silva’s lab. ‘We have to figure out a way to develop dengue vaccines that induce the good response that protects against infection, at the same time avoiding the bad response that enhances disease.’” – source.
With nearly half of the world’s population at risk of contracting this vector-borne disease, it’s great news to see a better understanding of how the virus works in the human body and how our immune systems respond. Until then it is important for residents to decrease the probability of being bitten by a mosquito buy getting rid of breeding sites and proper use of mosquito control.
More information on this study will be published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.